Posts Tagged “general assembly”

The final day of the General Assembly is always the least well attended.  It tends to be the pensions, trustees and stewardship type committees.  Short reports and few decisions.

But not today.

The Ministries Council report was remaindered yesterday and so mid-morning the discussion about Ordained Local Ministry began again.  Eventually Assembly voted 200-190 in favour of the Council’s proposals to begin to train people to perform certain ministry functions, including sacraments.

Delv 8. Approve the introduction of an Ordained Local Ministry as outlined in the Report and instruct the Council to bring forward further details of the training process and appropriate legislation to the General Assembly 2012. (Section 1.8.2 – 1.8.5)


Concept of OLM: OLM is conceived as a nonstipendiary form of the ministry of Word and Sacrament, aimed at engaging those with an appropriately tested sense of call towards ordination, but who wish to serve
primarily in a localised ministry. This would often, though not exclusively, be in support of those working in leadership roles as Parish Ministers (whether full-time or part-time). The normal expectation would be that OLMs would offer around 10 hours per week in an unpaid role, though it is recognised that some may find themselves in situations where they are able and willing to offer more time. It is also likely that in some circumstances
OLMs will be appointed to work in other roles specifically designated by Presbyteries, for some of which they may receive payment (eg as a Locum).

I’m all for this development.  I think the reservation of sacraments is much more about power than about praise and I’m glad that the Church of Scotland has taken this positive step.

It raises lots of questions about the role and responsibilities of ministers of word and sacrament but I think that particular discussion is way overdue and one for another post.

It was a shame to see such an empty Assembly Hall making such an important decision.  I wonder when the Assembly will start to register voting like Parliament so you can see who voted and who was absent.

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Bishop Graham Cray’s excellent address on Fresh Expressions to the evening session of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly is now available to watch on the Church of Scotland website.  Well worth a look, listen, copious notes and lots of thought.

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As I sat at my desk yesterday afternoon another spectacle unfolded before my very eyes.  The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland webstream was on my desk top and the Council of Mission And Discipleship were presenting their excellent report on Singleness, asking that it be disseminated for study.

What followed was simply remarkable.  Speaker after speaker condemned the report and one went as far as to move that the report should be received but not sent out.  Why? What could the controversy be?  Well,  the report says that some people have sex outside marriage.  I know.  I was shocked by this revelation.  Who knew???

This is the body that only the day before had said that it wants to have an open and frank discussion about sexuality and was now chastising Peter MacDonald for having the nerve to a) admit to pre-marital sex with his wife of 26 years and b) be funnier than them.

There is a serious underlying issue at play in all of this though, and the proposal to supress this report is just a symptom of it.  Over the course of the past week the Church of Scotland has, in my opinion, trampled all over the human rights of all of its office bearers.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 states that

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

On Monday the General Assembly banned anyone subject to its courts (all ministers and office bearers) from making public statements about the ordination of gay ministers. (UPDATE: the final wording of the motion was: Instruct all Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not to issue press statements or otherwise talk to the media or to make decisions in relation to the contentious matter of himan sexuality, with respect to the Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, until 31 May 2001.)

Article 30 states that

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

So, congratulations to the Church of Scotland.  You must be very proud.  Contravening at least two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in one day and that’s before we even get started on the employment rights of gay ministers which were curtailed by the moratorium on them moving charge for 2 years.

What on earth do you think you are doing?

Do you think that avoiding the debate, the fight, the argument, the falling out is the best way?  At any cost?

Or is their another way?  Is it not possible just to agree to disagree?  To give congregations the right to call who they want to be their minister?  If they want to call a minister who is gay, let them.  If you don’t want that then don’t call a gay minister.

Would that be so hard?  To agree to disagree?  To be grown up about it?  To recognise a genuine difference of opinion which will NEVER be resolved no matter how may Special Commissions and gagging orders you issue.

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On Monday night, after the drama, confusion and intrigue of the Overture discussion that never happened something important happened… something which is at the heart of the future of the church.

It was late in the evening when Bishop Graham Cray spoke to a disappointingly small group of people as part of the Emerging Church fringe event.

Bishop Cray is the man in charge of Fresh Expressions, the joint project between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, and he has been working in the area of pioneering ministry for years.

His first sentence was a response to a video of a great youth project at the Steeple Church in Dundee.  ‘That’s great’, he said, ‘but that’s not what I’m talking about.’

In that one sentence he summed up the concern I have with the direction of the ‘Emerging Church’ conversations and support available through the Church of Scotland.

Graham spoke of ministry across cultural boundaries, of growing churches where there are none and of a mixed economy of church.  He shed light on the how and why, shared encouragement and pointed out some pitfalls.

All that requires legislation, changes in recognition and training of the ministry needed for these new expressions and funding.

I’ve heard little this week to convince me that the Church of Scotland has a corporate awareness of this area or a grasp of where it is heading, despite the good work of the development officer for this area.

The event was webcast.  It would be great if Graham’s talk could be shared wider.

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I thought I’d have a go at exploring what the General Assembly has been up to because lots of people seem to be completely confused by what has been going on.  I know how you feel!  Let’s start with the part that has had all the headlines:

Did the Church of Scotland Approve Gay Ministers?

Contrary to what you have probably seen on TV or read in the papers, on Saturday the General Assembly did not vote to ordain homosexual ministers.  The case being heard on Saturday was a complaint that the Presbytery of Aberdeen.  The complainers were saying that the Presbytery hadn’t followed the procedures properly when they were dealing with Scott Rennie’s call to be minister of Queen’s Cross Church.

Their complaint was denied.  The General Assembly found that the Presbytery had followed procedure.

Mindful that the implication of this decision was by default to approve the induction of Scott to his new charge the Assembly inserted a disclaimer… that this decision did not overrule or change the code of ministerial conduct.

Yesterday (Monday) the General Assembly was scheduled to hear the Overture from the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye.

That didn’t happen because a motion was proposed by Dr McPake which was heard first. (I blogged about it yesterday)

The outcome of that discussion was to return the Church of Scotland to it’s pre-Assembly position.  There was much discussion in Saturday’s debate that inducting Scott Rennie would set a precedent.  The General Assembly was keen that this wouldn’t happen without a debate.  That was partly the motivation for the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye bringing their Overture which simply reaffirmed the historic orthodox position of the church.

The result of Monday’s deliberations was to:

  • Set up another Special Commission to consult with Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions on the subject of human sexuality and report to the General Assembly of 2011
  • impose a 2 year moratorium on inducting anyone who would bring a challenge to the potential outcome of that commission
  • ban anyone subject to the courts of the church from making public statements about the ordination of gay ministers

Because of that return to the pre-Assembly position the Overture was withdrawn.

That might seem like a fudge and I know many who would have preferred the debate on homosexuality just happen and a decision be made but there seems still to be a greater desire to hold together the Church of Scotland.

Davslate on Twitter last night said: Prediction for GA2011 – Special Commission reports that there are a range of divergent and often irreconcilable views on sexuality.

There is a sense of inevitability about the discussion to come.  There are quite simply two sides of this debate, neither likely to move.  That said, there are probably more areas where those two side agree than disagree.  I would think that all would agree that good relationships are important and that committed, faithful relationships are the ideal.  That at least gives people a place of agreement to start at rather than starting at the point of most disagreement.

To me the ban on public comment makes no sense.  I understand that people involved in case should not comment on it but to ban all comment on a topic which will be the subject of much debate and discussion in the media leaves a vacuum which will be filled by those less qualified or poorly informed.

I hope that makes a bit more sense of what has happened, and what is to come.

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That might seem like an overly dramatic headline, but this afternoon the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly agreed to ban all those subject to it’s courts, that’s Ministers and Elders, from talking about discussions relating to the ordination of gay ministers.

In a confusing and lengthy session the Assembly decided (I think):

1. Appoint a Special Commission composed of nine persons, representative of the breadth and unity of the Church, to consult with all Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions and to prepare a study on Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland in the light of the issues (a) addressed in the report welcomed by the General Assembly of 2007: “A challenge to unity: same-sex relationships as an issue in theology and human sexuality”, and (b) raised by the case of Aitken et al v the Presbytery of Aberdeen, and to report to the General Assembly of 2011;

2. Instruct all Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not to issue press statements or talk to the media or to make public comment, whether in publications or otherwise, on decision-making in relation to contentious matters of human sexuality, with respect to Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, until 31 May 2011; and

For the avoidance of doubt, affirm that the provision of this whole motion shall in no way be interpreted as offering grounds for challenging the decision in the referred case Aitken and others against the decision of the Presbytery of Aberdeen.

3. Urge all members who are subject to the discipline of the Courts of the Church of Scotland to act in accordance with the process outlined in 1 and 2.

So, what does all that mean?

What is clear is that the Kirk will appoint a Special Commission, a committee, of nine people to consult with Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions about the issues surrounding human sexuality.  This will report to the General Assembly of 2011.

Scott Rennie will (probably) be inducted to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, but the unclear position I blogged about previously came up towards the as the Assembly did not decide on anything other than the function of the Presbytery in this matter in their discussion on Friday night.  A motion to clarify was needed.

Then came what is possibly the biggest ‘sledge-hammer to crack a nut’ piece of legislation I’ve seen in years.

No-one who is a minister, elder or holds any other ordained position in the church, can talk to the press or make public statements about the issue of ordaining gay ministers.

It is hugely unclear what ‘public statements’ means.  Clarification was sought but was never really achieved.  Specific clarification was sought on blogs.  This was not given but it must be assumed that blogging would be a ‘public statement’.

This was prompted by the press coverage of Scott Rennie’s case.  Just as in civil law, there is already legislation in the church to stop people involved in a case from discussing it until the case is over.  This piece of unclear and unworkable nonsense goes way beyond what was needed and is completely unenforceable.

The Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye graciously withdrew their overture in light of the appointment of the Special Commission.

The question has to be asked, will anyone really be any further forward in two years?  Is another committee really going to help?

Only time will tell… because no-one else is allowed to!

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